Space & Place

Critical open educational practice in a time of walls and borders

As well as having the privilege of co-chairing OER17, I was also fortunate enough to share a panel on day one of the conference with an amazing group of women. Sheila MacNeill, Frances Bell, Vivien Rolfe, and Kate Bowles, are all familiar names within the education technology and open education worlds. As I also mentioned in the introduction, the panel was also supported by Catherine Cronin, who was with us in spirit, and delivering a parallel open praxis workshop with Caroline Kuhn.

Staying open: sustaining critical open educational practice in a time of walls and borders ran under the conference participation & social equality strand.

The session looked at keeping open practice open, in a time of rapid electoral shift away from the ideals of transnational cooperation, and the widespread manipulation of anxiety in relation to migration as well as of austerity budgeting, and the expanding precarity of labour. The panel invited attendees to join us in developing tactics that will sustain ethical open practice, supported and framed by five x five minute provocations.

Between us, we covered a lot of ground, taking a range of approaches. Kate Bowles wasn’t able to be with us physically, but was well represented by Frances Bell who read her provocation on desire lines and path making beautifully.

Vivien Rolfe (who will be co-chairing OER18) looked at how open relates to the focus on excellence, impact, metrics, performance indicators, market development and brand management in institutions, and asked ‘what can the Five Rs learn from the 3Rs?’

Sheila McNeil looked at the comfort and discomfort of open practitioners and practice within open and closed digital spaces, following up her reflections of the session and conference in this powerful post.

Frances Bell used a video story to ask how open are our research and education practices, looking at whether open access journals, blogs and web pages address or dissolve power relations. 

I looked at the issue of structural inequality and violence against women in online environments, delivering a five minute version of the notes I’m sharing here. My aim was to convey how violence against women and girls exists on an ordinary, everyday spectrum, that implicitly curtails engagement and speech in online spaces.

Open Educational Practice: recognising structural violence against women & girls (VAWG) online

Conversation and connections are critical to online communities and engagement in open practice and activities. What can we learn from present-day political attacks online, and new forms of censorship? What is acceptable and non-acceptable, and how might this translate to an effective way forward for the open movement?

Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) is a form of structural violence which reproduces and perpetuates structural inequality.  It intersects with, and exacerbates, other forms of discrimination, including racism, agism, disabalism, classism, and heteronormativity.

The continuum of VAWG includes includes sexual harassment, sexual violence, coercive control, intimidation, humiliation and threats. It directly and indirectly limits and regulates the lives of women and girls. VAWG is detrimental to feelings of safety, physical and psychological health and well-being, and has negative social and financial impacts.

“Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) is already a problem of pandemic proportion; research shows that one in three women will experience some form of violence in her lifetime. The new problem of ‘cyber VAWG’ could significantly increase this staggering number .”

UN Broadband Commission (2015)

Violence Against Women and Girls Online

Online violence also reinforces and perpetuates systemic gender inequality, as forms of abuse are enacted and extended into digital spaces, and as new variants of abusive behaviour are developed in relation to the affordances of digital environments, applications, and systems.

The United Nations 2015 “wake up” report estimates that 73% of females worldwide have endured online abuse. Online VAGW limits speech, social participation, and digital inclusion. It “can have adverse impact on the exercise of and advocacy for free speech and other human rights.”

“Failure to address and solve cyber VAWG could significantly impede the digital inclusion of women everywhere, putting women at increasing disadvantage for being excluded from enjoying the benefits of ICTs and the Internet.“

“With the proliferation of the Internet, online violence against women has taken on a global dimension. Online crimes are not a ‘first world’ problem; they seamlessly follow the spread of the Internet.”

UN Broadband Commission (2015)

Violence Against Women and Girls – a normative cultural backdrop?

VAWA takes place within contexts where women and girls are disadvantaged in a host of ways:

  • Global inequality in girls access to education and literacy
  • Global internet user gap – this has increased from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016. Highest in Least Developed Countries (31%) and Africa (23%), but rates remain higher for men than women in all regions. (UN, 2017)
  • Rapid adoption of technologies by abusers – the swift and continuing growth of technology-facilitated domestic violence
  • Growth in individual and orchestrated attacks on feminists and women speaking out about issues concerning women
  • Lack of acknowledgement that a lot of what we talk about online positions the subject (‘deafening androcentrism‘)

OER & VAWG – working in the open examples

There are a range of direct examples of the ways in which online violence against women impacts all of us trying to work equitably in the open:

  • Educators, researchers, students and civilians talking about gendered issues in public networks – wether they identify as feminist or not
  • Wikipedia editors & subjects. Given the critical cultural importance of Wikipedia, underrepresentation of women both as editors and women as subjects is a politically urgent issue.
  • The personal and political cost of the tidal wave of false equivalency arguments relating to gender inequality from trolls, misogynists, and the naive.
  • Openly accessible feminist research, or research which focuses on girls and women

VAWG is structural violence

“For it matters to us what is said about us, who says it, and to whom it is said: having the opportunity to talk about one’s life, to give an account of it, to interpret it, is integral to leading that life rather than being led through it…part of human life, human living, is talking about it, and we can be sure that being silenced in one’s own account of one’s life is a kind of amputation that signals oppression.”

Lugones & Spelman (1983)

Taking action – the good news

What works:

Addressing the issue of violence against women challenges, rather than reinforces, established gender roles in most places.

“Countries with the strongest feminist movements tend, other things being equal, to have more comprehensive policies on violence against women than those with weaker or non-existent movements. This plays a more important role than left-wing parties, numbers of women legislators, or even national wealth.”

“International and regional treaties were most influential in countries with strong domestic feminist movements. Feminist activists magnify the effects of treaties in local contexts by drawing attention to any gaps between ratification and compliance with goals for equality…Treaties give normative leverage to national civil society organisations…International treaties alter the expectations of domestic actors and strengthen and even spark domestic mobilisation.”

Weldon & Htun (2013) 

VAWG increasingly recognised as reinforcing and perpetuating systemic discrimination and structural violence (‘a cause and consequence of gender inequality’), and online abuse is increasingly recognised as a part of this continum of violence.

Laws are being introduced to address the specific forms VAWG takes online – for example, ‘revenge porn’ laws, helplines, training

Many kinds of online abuse and discrimination are now illegal, but hard fought for laws and rights will be eroded if abuse is normalised and accepted. Silence on issues relating to discrimination and hate supports the normalisation of abuse, which in turn effects what reasonable behaviour is.


Combatting Online Violence Against Women & Girls: A Worldwide Wake-Up Call UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development Working Group on Broadband and Gender 2015

Feminist mobilisation and progressive policy change: why governments take action to combat violence against women S. Laurel Weldon & Mala Htun Gender & Development Volume 21, Issue 2: Feminist solidarity and collective action 2013

Fighting for recognition: Online abuse of women bloggers in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States Stine Eckert, New Media & Society 2017

Have We Got a Theory for You! Feminist Theory, Cultural Imperialism and the Demand for “The Woman’s Voice” Maria Lugones & Elizabeth Spelman 1983

Misogyny on Twitter Jamie Bartlett et al, DEMOS 2014

Online Abuse of Feminists as An Emerging form of Violence Against Women and Girls Ruth Lewis, Michael Rowe and Clare Wiper 2016

Technology-facilitated abuse: the new breed of domestic violence The Conversation UK 2017

Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide Recommendations for action: bridging the gender gap in Internet and broadband access and use UN Broadband Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide 2017

Practical information & advice

Crash Override Network

Crisis support and assistance to the targets of online harassment


Real-time support for people being harassed online


Global, collaborative campaign for journalists, bloggers and publishers that are under attack

Information about violence against women online


Leicester In Minecraft! Young People Design New Buildings for their City

James (age 8, Dovelands Primary) Glass pyramid indoor park

James (age 8, Dovelands Primary School) Glass pyramid indoor park

To coincide with our Leicester in Minecraft event, and to celebrate the building work Leicester City Council is carrying out across the city, we invited children and young people between the ages of 6-16 who live or attend school in Leicester to create a building in Minecraft that would make Leicester even better. Entries came flooding in, amazing us with the creativity, ingenuity and thoughtfulness they demonstrated.

A huge thank you to every one who took the time to enter!

The judging panel

The panel looked at the creativity and imagination demonstrated by the entries, as well as technical skill and ability, and the building’s potential to make Leicester even better. The standard of entries was excellent – making the judging an extremely tough job.

Highly commended

James, from Woodland Primary (age 8),  Rufus Avenue Primary School (aged 8) and Abdulrahman, from Kestrels Field Primary School (aged 11) were all highly commended by the judging panel for their amazing creations.

James - glass pyramid indoor park (interior)

James (aged 8, Dovelands Primary School) glass pyramid indoor park (interior)

James writes:

I have chosen to create a massive glass indoor park, made from different coloured glass. There are pools on each side of the pyramid and underneath the floor is a large but shallow pool of water.  My pyramid has two open doorways on each side of the pools so that people can walk in and out easily.  Inside is an open space for anyone to enjoy, there are benches to sit on and sculptures to look at as well as the colourful view of the city. I chose to make this building because it is a very colourful sight and it is free for everyone to use!  It is a very different type of building for Leicester.

Rufus - Treehouse Library

Rufus (age 8, Avenue Primary School) Treehouse tree library

Rufus 2 Tree Library

Rufus (age 8, Avenue Primary School) Treehouse tree library (from below)

Rufus writes:

I have chosen to build a tree library.  It is basically a tree house with a library that has books about trees. I chose this building so children could learn more about trees.  There are lots of trees and parks in Leicester so it would be nice to have somewhere to learn about them.  I thought it would be exciting to make it in a tree house because it’s a library about trees.

Abdulrahman (aged 11, Kestrels Field Primary School) Hotel LOL

Abdulrahman (aged 11, Kestrels Field Primary School) Hotel LOL

Abdulrahman’s entry was Hotel LOL, an “extremely big and luxurious” hotel for homeless people, made with sand, brown wool, glass and oakwood.


The three winners selected by the judges are Sean from Montrose Primary School (aged 11), Oliver from St Cuthbert’s Primary School (aged 11), and Gurinder from Soar Valley Community College (aged 12).

Sean (aged 11, Montrose Primary School) Three in One Building

Sean (aged 11, Montrose Primary School) Three in One Building

Sean (aged 11, Montrose Primary School) Three in One Building - sweet shop and Korean barbeque seating

Sean (aged 11, Montrose Primary School) Three in One Building – sweet shop and Korean barbecue seating

Sean’s entry particularly impressed the judges with the level of detail and design of both exterior and interior design. The building provides sweets, comics, and Korean barbecue. Sean explained that families don’t all like the same thing, so his building provides something for everyone:

“I chose the look of the building to be different from others since it has a balcony on the second floor and it has windows on the roof. Also it has a water fountain at the front, which is a nice view. I chose this building because it is different, it has something for everyone.”



Oliver (aged 10, St Cuthbert’s Primary School) Under- and Overground Roller Coaster

Oliver 4

Oliver (aged 10, St Cuthbert’s Primary School) Under- and Overground Roller Coaster – birds-eye view

Oliver (aged 10, St Cuthberts Primary School) Under and Overground Roller Coaster - lava section

Oliver (aged 10, St Cuthbert’s Primary School) Under- and Overground Roller Coaster – lava section

Oliver’s entry was an dramatic under- and overground roller coaster – something currently missing from Leicester. The ride features scenic views of trees, vines, as well as having water and lava features. Oliver writes:

I chose to build a roller coaster for my Minecraft project. I thought about building a tall tower for Leicester so we have a famous land mark but then I wanted to have a bit of fun so I wanted to build something else and a roller coaster came into my head.  It has multiple vertical drops.

I’ve lived in Leicester for all my life. There are a lot of good things in Leicester but there are a few things missing, like some famous land marks. I thought about building a religious as we have lots of unique religions. I then thought about building a tall building like the Empire State building, but then I realised the main thing we were missing was a roller coaster.  I really love roller coasters, but there are no roller coasters in Leicester.

Gurinder (aged 12, Soar Valley Community College)  FUN HUB - crazy golf

Gurinder (aged 12, Soar Valley Community College) FUN HUB – crazy golf

Gurinder’s building was the FUN HUB, a multi-purpose activity centre with floors providing an ice skating rink (with “classes and fun disco nights”) and indoor crazy golf.  Gurinder writes:

This building is the FUN HUB. It is a multi purpose building with lots of fun things to do on every floor. There is a café and ice rink, crazy golf, restaurants with flavours from around the world, a library, terrace area. On the terrace you can sit to relax with a book, or go to the stargazing area in the evenings to look at stars with a cup of hot chocolate from the bar. The FUN HUB would be a cool place to go with friends and family, and I would want to take my relatives that visit Leicester to see the building. There are conference rooms and halls that have different workshops going on like cooking or baking classes, dance and beatboxing workshops and arts and crafts days.

More amazing entries

Eden 1

Eden (aged 10, Buswells Lodge Primary School) Leicester Sky Scraper

Eden’s sky scraper included a basement for “relaxing and looking at art or old items or fossils”, as well as a party room, and “awesome views of the city”.

Issac 1 - KR3 Hotel

Isaac (aged 8, Christ the King Catholic Primary School) King Richard III Hotel

Isaac writes:

I have chosen to create a hotel called ‘The King Richard the Third’ hotel. It has many floors which are all made out of different materials. There is a pub on the side with a swimming pool on the top and a number of rooms have balconies where people can sit outside. Each bedroom has a library and all are child friendly family size rooms. There is also a helicopter pad on the top in case any celebrities want to come and stay here.

Alijawad (aged 12, Soar Valley College) People's Art Gallery

Alijawad (aged 12, Soar Valley College) People’s Art Gallery

 Alijawad created a People’s Art Gallery:

You can give in your art so you won’t just look at art you can also give it in if you would like. This will encourage others to embrace their creativity and imagination.


Jill (aged 6, Dovelands Primary School) Leicester Airport - runway and the control tower

Jill (aged 6, Dovelands Primary School) Leicester Airport – runway and the control tower

Jill (aged 6, Dovelands Primary School) Leicester Airport - passengers boarding plane

Jill (aged 6, Dovelands Primary School) Leicester Airport – passengers boarding plane

Jill designed an airport for Leicester, with direct routes to Singapore.

Stan (aged 15, Beauchamp College) Learning Centre

Stan (aged 15, Beauchamp College) Learning Centre

Stan (aged 15, Beauchamp College) Learning Centre

Stan (aged 15, Beauchamp College) Learning Centre – entrance

Stan writes:

I have created a learning centre with many functions such as computer training, engineering and inventing. I have attempted to create a calming environment to learn in using balconies and plant life. It is elevated on a wall and I mainly used dark oak wood, spruce wood and cobblestone for the exterior with lots of flowers.

The entrance “includes hanging chandeliers and an underfloor area with shrubbery and a tree which protrudes up to the staircase.”

Thomas (age 11, Leysland High School) Underground School

Thomas (age 11, Leysland High School) Underground School


Thomas (age 11, Leysland High School) Underground School - utilities supply

Thomas (age 11, Leysland High School) Underground School – utilities supply

Thomas’s underground school design made use of solar panels and took into account environmental issues.



Leicester in Minecraft! Competition & Event

Leicester in Minecraft

Leicester City Council’s BSF Programme is transforming the city! We are rebuilding and refurbishing 23 city schools, and working with our school communities to build better futures for all of our young people.

Leicester City Council’s ICT BSF team are taking time out to celebrate the building programme, and in partnership with De Montfort Video Gaming Society, Interact Labs, Phoenix and The Spark Arts for Children we’re organising a free to attend day of Minecraft and digital arts fun. We’re also running an exciting competition for children and young people aged from 6 to 16 years old to show off their Minecraft design and build skills, by creating an exciting new building for Leicester.

Leicester in Minecraft Competition – closes Sunday 25th May 2014

The competition is run in partnership between Leicester City Council’s BSF Programme and the Phoenix.

The competition is open to children and young people 6-16 years old, who live or go to school in Leicester city. We want children and young people to create a brand new building for Leicester in Minecraft, and send us screenshots of their building, along with a short explanation of why their building will make Leicester an even better city to live in.

Entries need to be made on the official entry form, which can be downloaded here as a word document: Leicester in Minecraft competition entry form

Please get in touch if you need the form in an alternative format!

Minecraft Event at the Phoenix – Saturday 31st May 2014, 11am-4pm

UPDATE: all tickets were snapped up within 48 hours! We will provide competition winners with tickets so that they can attend, if they don’t already have tickets. There is also a wait list available for notification in case any tickets are returned.

Building on the success of last year’s Minecraft Meetup event, which was attended by over 180 people, the LCC BSF Team, in partnership with De Montfort Video Gaming SocietyInteract LabsPhoenix and The Spark Arts for Children, are organising a free to attend day of Minecraft and digital arts fun.

Our keynote speaker will be Adam Clarke, a games based learning expert with a special focus on Minecraft in education, heritage and social settings.  Adam will be talking about how Minecraft can be used to expand horizons and unlock opportunities. As well as talks, activities, games and interactive art, we will be announcing the winners of our Leicester in Minecraft competition.

The event is open to people of all ages – young people under 18 must be supervised by a parent or carer.

This event was hugely popular last year – so if you’d like to come, sign up as soon as possible! Click through to the Eventbrite page for activities and timings, and to get your free ticket!

Minecraft in Leicester Schedule: 

11am – 12:30

Keynote & Competition Winners

Screen 2 Minecraft: expanding horizons –   unlocking innovation
Our speaker Adam Clarke has a national and international reputation within games based learning and Minecraft in education, heritage and social settings. Adam was recently shortlisted for the Tate Britain I K award for digital artwork for Tatecraft. He will be talking about how Minecraft can be used as a creative and educational platform.
We’ll also be announcing the winners of theLeicester in Minecraft building competition. We are asking young people across the city to share their vision for buildings that would make Leicester even better. 

1 – 1.40pm

Minecraft Intro


Midland, Morledge and Burton Rooms

Are you new to Minecraft? Come and have a look around, and build! This is a drop in session for those who’d like to explore and find out more.

1.40pm – 2.30pm


Midland, Morledge and Burton Rooms


Minecraft Forum

 Are you passionate about Minecraft and wish there were more opportunities to meet other Minecrafters, or use Minecraft in your school? Come along to this forum to share your ideas and what you like about the game. All welcome, but especially children, young people, their parents/carers and teachers.


1 – 3pm

Tech Demos

Midland, Morledge and Burton Rooms

Minecraft maps! Adam Clarke will demo a range of exciting maps using both PC Minecraft maps and Minecraft Pocket edition maps.

Interact Labs will be demoing 3D printing – and making Minecraft minifigs. Come and find out how tiny Raspberry Pi computers can be used to connect Minecraft to the physical world.

1 – 4pm

Arts & Crafts

Midland, Morledge and Burton Rooms

Paint a 3D printed Steve! Minecraft arts and paper craft.

2:30 – 3:45pm

P2P Competition

Midland, Morledge and Burton Rooms

P2P competition – may the best Minecrafter win! Sign up on the day for your hunger games style melee slot. 


Siyabonga – An Innovation Project


One of the ways in which the DigiLit Leicester project is supporting schools in making use of technology to transform learning and teaching in Leicester is via ICT Innovation Grants. All BSF school staff can apply for funding to support projects that focus on the use of technology to benefit learning and learners, teaching and school community development.

We prioritise projects which focus on or are clear about staff development,  are clear and realistic about what will be achieved, and have put thought into sharing outcomes.

One of the successful projects was the Siyabonga project at Hamilton Community College. The project concluded on the 8th of March with a fantastic event which brought together students from two continents.  The videos below capture the excitement of the event and Laura Iredale, the music teacher at Hamilton Community College who proposed and made the project happen, tells us more:

#projectafrica set out to be an epic musical journey spanning 2 continents and 6,000 miles.

It ended up being the experience of a lifetime for everyone involved!

This story actually begins back in 2010 when I moved to South Africa to work for a charity called the COPT (the Community Outreach Programme Trust). The charity is committed to working in the townships of South Africa, with a focus in the areas surrounding Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal. Its aim is to establish sustainable projects within disadvantaged communities with a view to improving quality of life for people living there.

A number of community centres have been established to facilitate this goal, including, Lamontville and Marianhill – the centres participating in our project! These centres run weekly classes and activities which include youth groups, English lessons, music workshops, coffee mornings and crèches.

Whilst in South Africa I was amazed by the diversity of the people, cultures and musical traditions of the country. I was particularly involved in working with the Zulu community, running youth activities, holiday clubs and music workshops.

Although I was leading or teaching these classes, it became evident to me that I was learning so much from them – more about how to live life to the full whatever situation you find yourself in – and how to fully embrace the  emotionally and spiritually rich environment that they are a part of.

I left the country the following year in love with its people, its constant smile and its never-failing vibrancy!

It was this love of life and love of music that I wanted to share with my students at Hamilton.

Project Overview

Starting with teaching our children some traditional Zulu songs (African melodies, harmonies and rhythms which would challenge their concepts of Western music), to rehearsing with and getting to know people in South Africa (children 6,000 miles away who have the same love of music as our students but come from an entirely different background) –  culminating in the delivery of a trans-continental concert showcasing our student choirs and band and a South African choir over a live Skype link for the simultaneous performance of the concerts’ African influenced repertoire!

Learning about South Africa

Lamontville is home to one of the COPT community centres with a lovely group of young people. The youth were part of #projectafrica and we (both learners and staff at Hamilton) got to know some of them by learning about their lives.

We received fact files written by the children themselves and personal comments from the COPT volunteers who work with them every day and know them best.

We also wrote letters to them which I was able to take over to South Africa when I visited during February half term – some of our students found they had lots in common with the Lamontville guys…especially a love for football!

We had a general idea of the set list from the Hamilton end and this needed to be defined in South Africa. We had taken a number of video logs tracking our progress in lessons and band rehearsals and whilst over there I was able to share the videos with our South African counterparts – which resulted in lots of excitement and a bit of laughter at our attempt at Zulu accents and dancing!

Promoting the Project

We effectively used our ‘Music and Drama’ Twitter account to promote the project under #projectafrica. It became a platform for students to air their views on the project, to share photos and experiences, and for us to communicate important information, project updates, and rehearsal times.

The Live Event

We as the performers we acting as the audience for the South African performances and in turn, when we performed, they acted as our audience. It was a miraculous musical and technological feat!

We lost the internet connection only once during the concert but we filled in with another song and…we were back up and running and able to welcome back our South African friends with an enthusiastic round of applause at the end of the piece!

Specially invited guests included our Principal, the school governors, Kevin Ncube (BBC Radio Leicester reporter), and our BSF partners from Leicester City Council (who helped make this project happen with innovation funding).

Project Benefits

It was wonderful to see the many ways the project benefitted our young people. At Hamilton, we believe in developing the spiritual, moral, social and cultural understanding of our students and broadening their horizons!

We are committed to giving our students memorable experiences. Opportunities like #projectafrica enable them to become effective global citizens who feel that they can have a very real impact on the lives of others around the world.

This project really allowed our students to be part of something bigger than just themselves, gain an awareness of the struggles of others less fortunate than themselves and think outside the Leicester box! The connected and engaged with music and with the South African children in a way that was very emotional to witness.

I found #projectafrica was an amazing experience for the whole school and for me. The best bit was when we got to listen to the African children sing all their songs – Charlotte Lee Y7

Similarly, it was amazing to witness the effect this project had on the South African children’s lives.

These children are committed to making a better way of life for themselves and their families – they regularly attend the classes run at Lamontville and Marianhill community centres. However, it’s a catch 22 because there is no government funded schooling in South Africa. Even with the best will in the world, sometimes it’s just not enough to really make a difference and change their lives…with this connection they were able to experience more of the world than they had ever thought possible before. They were able to experience the joys of friendship with children their age on the other side of the world.

What Next?

After the resounding success of #projectafrica we were left on a high. The support provided by the BSF ICT Innovation fund was key in the delivery of this project and we intend to use the equipment purchased through the project for more exciting projects in the future. We have had the experience now of connecting with South Africa and we have seen how well it has worked – not only in the presentation of our concert, but in opening the eyes of many students both here and in South Africa, to the many possibilities and new horizons open to them as a result of the combination of modern technology and music.

We hope to run this project as a yearly event in school. Some of our students have also been inspired to visit South Africa and we hope to fundraise and take a small group out there in the near future.

Connected Libraries: project summary and recommendations

Library picture

Picture shared under Creative Commons Licence by Skokie Public Library

As ICT Strategy Lead (Children's Capital) at Leicester City Council, I'm responsible for investment, management and development work relating to technology on the city-wide secondary school building programme. The LRC Connect school library project ran as part of our staff development programme, and supports the promotion and development of digital literacy across the city. What follows is the summary of the project.

Many thanks to Lucy Atkins (Leicester City Council), Richard Hall (DMU), Deb Siviter (Library Services for Education), David White (University of Oxford), Laura Taylor (Taylormade Libraries), Lesley Martin (School Library Association), Rachael Guy (Berkhamsted School) for their invaluable support, and a huge thanks to all of the school librarians and library staff who took part.

LRC Connect – Project Summary and Recommendations

The BSF Programme in Leicester includes 23 secondary schools, 2 of which run at multiple sites. All 16 mainstream schools in the Programme will offer on site Library or Learning Resource Centre (LRC) provision. Of these 5 are already complete, 2 are due to open in October 2013, with the remaining projects to be completed by 2015. Levels of provision in the 7 small and SEN schools vary, in relation to library space and staff.

The LRC Connect Project ran from May 2012 to November 2012, supporting the investment being made through the BSF Programme in these spaces, particularly in terms of ICT infrastructure, systems and devices. The project aimed to support schools in ensuring that the potential of their library service and space is realised.

In early 2012, Leicester City Council’s BSF Learner Voice team consulted with 400 young people across Leicester to find out what their school and learning environment priorities were. Learner Voice in Leicester City: Learning Technology Priorities (March 2012) published young people's priorities for learning environments and for technology. ‘Better designed library spaces’ is listed as the second highest priority for improving their learning environments:

Young People identify the school library as an important, unique and valued area within the school. They ask that the BSF Programme look at what the library was for and how it was used.

They want the role of the library to be extended and promoted as a place to relax as well as learn. School libraries are particularly valued as quiet, calm spaces, encouraging and supporting informal learning and learner-directed research.

Library space was identified as supporting both independent individual and group learning, both within and as an extension to the taught curriculum.

Most young people expect the library spaces to offer both digital and physical resources i.e. computers should be available with wifi access. They would like to have support to use the technology and web-based resources for research and learning.

The LRC Connect Project directly responded to this priority. Additionally, it was designed to take forward three of the ICT school priorities in the following ways:

Space and Place

  • Supporting schools in the process of building new school Learning Resource Centre (LRC) or library spaces, or rethinking the use of current spaces.
  • Providing librarians and school leaders with access to library design expertise and information about effective library space design.

Continuing Professional Development and Innovation

  • Providing school librarians across the city with information, support and training about ways of using technology creatively and effectively to support learners, promote services and share resources.
  • Supporting librarians to become connected learners and undertake short projects that supported their own professional development and benefited their school community.

Networked Learning and Communities

  • Providing networking opportunities for school librarians and library staff, and supporting them in connecting to professional associations and expertise.
  • Reviewing the ways in which existing library services connect to and support other departments and projects across the school.
  • Introducing librarians to a range of web based technologies that support collaborative and networked practice.

Project approach

The six month project started in May 2012. All Leicester BSF schools were invited to participate. School Librarians, Learning Resource Centre Managers, and other staff members from 13 city secondary mainstream and 3 of the small and SEN schools attended project events. Many of the participating schools were able to send 2 or 3 representatives to events.

The project consisted of three face to face events, one online meeting and independent project work undertaken by participants. Participants were not required to complete any additional work, but we provided individual support as required for staff that chose to undertake a project.

LRC Connect initial event, De Montfort University – 4 May 2012

The project began with a one day workshop, run in partnership with De Montfort University, for school librarians, Learning Resource Managers and related support staff members. 12 schools took part. The event focused on:

  • The role of the school library or LRC in a digital age
  • Current thinking around school library or LRC design and use of space Digital search, evaluation and study skills for staff and learners
  • The creation of initial project plans staff wanted to complete either independently or in small groups over the next 6 months

Attendees varied in terms of their skills and familiarity with the use of technology to support learners and promote their libraries. All of the attendees were keen to explore the use of technologies to support their roles and to learn about new resources and practices.

Experts from across the UK provided staff with the latest research, thinking and practice. Laura Taylor (Taylormade Libraries) looked at school library design and use of space. David White (University of Oxford) talked about the search, evaluation and study skill strategies learners currently use, and how librarians could help make these more effective. Rachael Guy (Berkhamsted School) shared her experiences of managing a school library, prioritising technology for learning, and supporting learners in using technology effectively.

Representatives from the School Library Association, the national professional body supporting school librarians and libraries, and from Leicestershire Library Services for Education – our local support service, providing schools with books, resources, advice and training, also contributed to the day.

Online meeting, 29 June 2012

This meeting provided participants with an introduction to and the opportunity to use an online conference environment (in this instance, Blackboard Collaborate). 6 schools took part. Attendees used the platform to present and discuss their initial project ideas and progress. Some of the attendees had never used online conferencing, voice or video services before.

LRC meeting, Beaumont Leys School, 17 October 2012

The meeting gave participants an opportunity to visit one of the more recently built school LRCs, and discuss issues relating to library management, layout and technologies. 9 schools took part. Lucy Atkins, Leicester City Council’s Digital Literacy Research Associate, provided the group with an introduction to augmented reality (AR) and QR codes, bringing the group up to speed with some of the ways in which school librarians are using these technologies.

Book IT event, Phoenix Square, 21 November 2012

Staff from Secondary, Junior and SEN schools across the city were invited to attend the project cycle close event, which was run in partnership with Whatever it Takes, the Leicester City reading initiative. The day conference focused on technology for reading and literacy. The day provided LRC Connect group members and staff across the city with an opportunity to hear from and question expert speakers, attend workshops, and network. Representatives from 16 BSF secondary, small and SEN schools attended the Book IT event.

Babington Community College, The City of Leicester College, and Hamilton Community College LRC Connect members were given the opportunity to demonstrate and develop their public speaking skills and promote their schools by presenting their projects to all conference attendees on the main stage.

Workshops for delegates included using and creating e-books, citizen journalism for schools, weblogs and blogging to support literacy, the use of computer games to support reading, and using Twitter to develop Personal Learning Networks.

School based projects

Participants were encouraged to plan short projects that would support the role of their school library and help them develop a range of new skills. These included:

Babington Community College (Rob Povey): Using QR Codes and iPads in the library during induction to help familiarise year 7 pupils with the library.

The City of Leicester College (Madeleine Beach): Creation of a school library blog to showcase students’ book reviews and encourage reading for pleasure.

Fullhurst Community College (Nicola Buttery): Working with e-Reader devices to improve learners reading ability and attitudes towards reading.

Hamilton Community College (Sharon Dilkes): Setting up and managing a Facebook group to support GCSE study and revision skills for Year 11 students.

Sir Jonathan North (Meena Bhatt Vyas): Resources for digital referencing, to support learners in understanding how to consistently and appropriately reference web pages, blog posts and other online information.

You can find more information on the school projects over at the Digitlit Leicester project blog.

Next steps and 3 key recommendations


Leicester schools are committed to matching the infrastructure, systems and technologies we are investing in with innovative and effective library use. Our schools are at different stages in terms of making best use of technologies to support learners, and in ensuring that advice, guidance and support extends to digital practices. Our learners use social networks to discuss their homework, they look for information and resources online, and they complete activities and study in digital environments. It’s important then that schools are able to support learners in using technologies to improve attainment and achievement.

The school library should be a key resource to support study skills, information management, and to promote reading for enjoyment.

Here are our top 3 recommendations to help school leaders ensure their school library service is taking the best possible advantage of technology to deliver services and support whole school improvement.

1. Expertise and support for learners and departments in relation to digital search, evaluation and referencing

Comments made during the project make the fundamental change technology and the internet has made to study and revision skills clear:

Any activity that just involves looking something up isn’t much of a learning activity in the age of Google.

Schools need to focus on enhancing students existing skills and practices – their approaches work, but we can help them understand why and make them even more effective.

School librarians need to be experts in digital search, evaluation and referencing. They need to understand how young people find and use online environments and resources, so that they can support learners to enhance these with a range of evaluation strategies. The school librarian should be able to understand, support and connect the work in this area across all subject areas, so that teaching staff are being consistent with guidance and support.

It is critical schools ensure that the study skill support and advice given to learners also includes digital search, evaluation and referencing. The school librarian is ideally placed to support this, however, where a qualified librarian or equivalent post holder is not in place, a senior member of staff should take responsibility for ensuring consistent and accurate information and support is available to all learners relating to search, evaluation and the appropriate use of digital resources, across all curriculum areas.


Participation in the wider City Council’s Digital Literacy Framework project – Digilit Leicester – will help school staff to reflect on where they are in terms of their knowledge and practice relating to the use of technology to support learners and learning. The framework area Finding, Evaluating and Organising directly addresses search, evaluation and a range of skills relating to the use of digital information and resources.

There are free, high quality online resources to support staff and librarians – for example, the Open University’s Being Digital site houses a collection of short study skill activities, including search, evaluation, communication and sharing online. The Google Search Education site carries resources relating to search and evaluation skills to take staff development forward and activities to support learners.

2. Making the most of library space – whatever your budget

Libraries need to be multi-function spaces – and design and planning needs to reflect this. School libraries need ample storage, shelving and display space; room for fixed computer stations and for mobile device storage; seating and desks for a whole class, and informal seating options for individual study; digital display and presentation technologies (for example, an interactive projector).


In April 2012 we produced and circulated a guide to school library design issues, Designing 21st Century Libraries/Learning Spaces (PDF) (Word).

The SLA run an annual competition for School Library Design. Even if you are not considering entering, the guidance notes are well worth reviewing. Previous competition winners have included a wide range of older as well as new libraries – it rewards innovation, creativity and resourcefulness in the use of making the most of library space.

3. Ensure on-going Professional Development for School Librarians/Learning Resource Centre Staff

Participants enjoyed their engagement with the project, the support we were able to provide, and appreciated the opportunity to learn more about ways in which technology is being used to support school libraries. The ability to network with and interact with other library staff was identified as very beneficial.

It's important that librarians are able to keep up to speed with developments across their field. They need to be familiar with standard library technologies, for example library specific software, as well as the range of technologies, platforms and approaches that can support learners and enhance learners experience of reading, literacy, study and revision skills. Many school librarians take responsibility for supporting accelerated reading schemes. All librarians will have to support students with learning difficulties or disabilities.

Librarians need to be confident and familiar users of technologies and approaches to help learners overcome the range of different challenges they face. We recommend that the ways in which librarians are making use of technology is included in discussions and planning related to the school’s appraisal and evaluation of how the library is supporting the school community. Looking at developing specific new ways of using technologies in the library, with all learners or with targeted groups, and evaluating these, could form part of the school’s yearly strategic plans.


Professional development is not something that should be viewed as just training course attendance. Staff should be encouraged to develop their own independent learning skills, and develop their own professional networks to support on-going development.

One of the Digitlit Leicester Project strands, Technology supported Professional Development, focuses on this, and is designed to support educators and school communities to participate within, develop, create and manage web and mobile-based communities of practice, or Personal Learning Environments. Engagement in networked learning practices supports the development of digital literacy, and ensures that people can create and engage in networks that are specific to their (and their learners!) needs.

An important part of on-going professional development opportunities for the school librarian and resources for the school is membership of a professional association. Is your school benefiting from national and local support, expertise and resources?

Leicestershire Library Services for Education (LSE) – is local support service, providing schools with books, resources, advice and training. Again – feedback from librarians who participated in the project was that membership was very valuable to both them and their schools. LSE user groups meet termly and provide free CPD for all school library staff. City specific network meetings are also being organised by LSE in conjunction with Leicester Libraries.

The School Library Association (SLA) is the national advisory and information service for school libraries and librarians. They provide a wide range of support to members, including at regional level. Feedback from project participants who are members was extremely positive in terms of the quality and usefulness of support offered.